Toad in the Hole April 2005 Archives

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April 30, 2005

Friday Science-Is-Fun Blogging

I'm not ready to change the subject yet.

Posted at 02:57 AM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2005

Lord God!!

IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER!

IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER!

IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER!

Posted at 09:25 PM | Comments (2)

April 26, 2005

Tuesday Exploding Toads Blogging

That's exploding toads, not "exploding frogs." If you're gonna be all voyeuristic-sadistic, at least get the taxon right.

Oy, those Germans. Go on over to Pharyngula and read it there; I'm just allll upset 'n' shit.

Posted at 03:58 PM | Comments (2)

April 22, 2005

Friday Science-Is-Fun Blogging

Go see this, go to Room 5, "A salticid movie theater," watch 'em all, and feel free to suggest dancin' music.

Posted at 04:04 PM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2005

Company

I wash my hair about every third day, and wear a plastic shower cap the other two days. It hangs on a hook in the bathroom window to dry.

The other day, I twisted up the my yard or so of hair and put on the hat as usual, and tended to a few other things while I had my hair out of the way. I kept hearing very soft sounds near my right ear, a slight swish or sliding sound, and figured it was the ends of the hair sliding down to the elastic on the hat, as usual. Nothing odd, I just hadn't noticed that precise sound before.

Took shower, toweled off, and swept the hat off my head to hang it up. A fairly large cranefly bounced out and perched on the curtain, evidently none the worse for its waterslide ride. Oh.

Posted at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2005

Mines/Del Puerto Canyon

We haven't done this yet this year, but we try to ride this route every spring at least once. Lately we've been doing it east to west; sun angles seem better for our time of day.

Take I-580 (if you're coming from the central Bay Area) to I-5 to the Del Puerto Canyon exit, which as I recall is the one south of the Corral Hollow Road exit. It's got some more recent, more prominent sign too -- something pseudo-Spanish parkway? (It's Diablo Grande, yet another damned golf course.) Turn right -- east -- at the bottom of the ramp toward Diablo Grande, and take the next right turn a few yards down the road. That's Del Puerto.

So take Del Puerto Canyon Road east. There aren't any confusing choices; the hardest thing is staying on the road. After miles and miles, you get to a T-intersection with Mines Road. Stop and have an evil sausage or microwaved hotdog or just coffee or a beer at the Junction Cafe. It's the only place to get coffee for a long way.

The Junction is an interesting slice; in that, it resembles the whole route. It's an old hunters' bar, with huge wild boars' heads mounted on the wall, a bulletin board with lost Catahoula hound notes and boat trailers for sale, corny cards tacked up behind the bar ("Our credit manager is Helen Waite. If you want credit here, go to Helen Waite.") and Bud on tap. Then it added bikers to the clientele, and you'll see lots of those other Hogs in the parking lot, lots of leather in the chairs. Then it added those other bikers, and you'll see people in ridiculous spandex outfits and those reverse high heels they wear, clacking around between the tables. And somewhere in between came the birders, I suppose after the Branding Iron closed some years back, down Mines Road.

So now there's a stack of field guides next to the cash register: birds, flowers, um is it herps? Trees? Now that's what I call service.

Now you're on Mines Road, the top of the T. Turn left and go for a couple miles till the road bends sharply right and you see a wide ranch driveway with a speed limit sign in it. Pull off -- there's lots of room to do that without blocking the gate -- and look around. That used to be our regular stop for Lewis' woodpeckers, but I think they've moved closer to the Junction. Nevertheless, it's a good view, and we've seen incredible wildflowers there, a whole field solid magenta with owl's clover. On the way, look for yellow violets, delphinium, or shooting star under the sparse oaks, depending on the time, and goldfields, and lots more.

(Actually, what we generally do is pull into that gravel apron and eat the lunch Joe packed, and stop at the Junction for coffee after.)

Make a U-turn and retrace to the Junction. Then straight onto Mines Road, which would have been a right turn straight off Del Puerto Canyon. We've seen Lawrence's goldfinches around the fire station across the roas from the cafe. Follow Mines Road all the way to Livermore, and after that you're on your own.

This route is a sort of California microcosm, through grasslands, chaparral, a piece of very desertlike land with junipers and blazing stars and such, sparse young-oak forest, gray pine and liveoak forest, more chaparral, and farmland/grassland/woods. It follows the creek, and has enough pull-offs to keep the frustration to a minumum.

Lots of birds -- we go there to see the orioles and kingbirds and Costa's hummers, golden eagles, assorted hawks, magpies, lots more -- once or twice we had a roadrunner. Also had a midday bat one year, a pallid bat rousted from its cave by a flock of swallows looking for nesting sites.

Snakes -- one year we were there on Holy Saturday, and we saw snakes galore on the road. We knew there would be a herd of holiday picnickers coming through, so we kept stopping and shooing them off the road: garter snakes, a kingsnake, and a gopher snake who was logy enough that I could grab him. I picked him up and he wrapped around my arm and did that thing they do, vibrating the tail so it seems to rattle in the dry grass. This makes the whole snake vibrate -- how nifty, a snake that purrs! If we'd had a pillowcase in the car, that snake would've come home with me, I was so smitten.

It's good to stop at just about every pull-off, whether you have a traffic train behind you or not, because every spot along the road is so different. Take binocs even if you just want to see flowers, because lots are on the other side of the creek or behind forbiddingly posted fences.

Once in Livermore, we take 580 home, and if by chance we haven't had lunch, there's an In-n-Out by the freeway. Almost reconciles one to civilization. I say "almost" because it does get depressing seeing all the housing and paving metastasizing around Livermore, where there used to be honest habitat.

I could go on for screens and screens about the flower show there, but see for yourself. Be sure to look up, both for birds and for hills brushed with color, right from the start of the road.

Posted at 06:04 AM | Comments (3)

April 11, 2005

Out Past Livermore

Joe heard there were a couple of recent tricolored blackbird colonies and a pair of Cassin's kingbirds out by Corral Hollow Road and Patterson Pass. Nice coolish Sunday morning, off we went.

First golden eagle was a youngster above Corral Hollow Road, wheeling in a leisurely fashion and visible from a handy pull-out. Good thing, because there was lots of traffic, mostly guys in pickups with dirtbikes loaded up, in a tearing hurry to get to the State Vehicular Recreation Area. And me all unarmed, dammit.

The kingbirds were supposed to be on the Alameda-San Joaquin county line, which is right in the middle of the wReck area. On the other side is a LawrenceLivermoreNL-US-Something'r'other explosives test area, quite an extensive piece of ground. I'm thinking it would be an efficient use of land to combine the two, myself. Hey, they want thrills, right? And I'd pay to watch.

If the birds are still in residence, the great annoying buzz of weekend Good Clean Fun was keeping them out of sight, which is unusual for kingbirds. Maybe we'll try again on a weekday.

East to the freeway, north just a bit to the Patterson Pass Road exit, and down that familiar road. Usually we do that on a loop with Altamont Pass in winter, for fancy hawks. This time we took a left onto a road I'd been wondering about for years; turns out to be a dead end to a mysterious enough gated commercial building -- manufacturing? Remote offices? Hard to tell, and no clue in the signage. Along that road is a little cattail pond where the blackbirds were supposed to be. We saw two females who, on studying the guides, seem to have been trikes, but we neither saw nor heard any males, which is weird indeed for blackbirds. We'd got a late start; maybe they were having a midday siesta.

The second blackbird location was dry in both senses: a creekbed with no visible water and no visible blackbirds. On the way there, though, we did see lots of western kingbirds, several shrikes (always heartening, and these are likely residents), two more golden eagles and one eagle, very distant, that just might have been a juvie bald, lots of white over tail. Several redtail pairs, three or four kestrels, and of course lots of turkey vultures.

Just a few magpies, but I think that's just because of the route we took. Lark sparrows, meadowlarks, lesser goldfinch, whitecrowns and goldencrowns, savanna sparrow; and Pacific chorus frog by ear. Ravens and crows harassing each other; crows harassing vultures. Ah, sweet Spring!

Lots more of the usual, and flowers scattered about: blue tritelia, several lupines (blue, purple, white; bush and herbaceous), blue dicks, fiddleneck, owl clover, paintbrush, butter-n-eggs, the usual posies in a handsome show. The grass is still green, but starting to ripen and get gold on the east side of the hills by I-580. Quite advanced in the season compared even to just two weeks ago when we went through there to Death Valley.

And butterflies. The painted ladies continue to stream through in serious numbers, more than one a second in some spots. Near that cattail pond, I scanned a drift of blooming mustard and found it speckled liberally with painted ladies, and there were more in a patch of milk thistle at one of the stops on Patterson. So they do stop to nectar in the middle of the day. I'm not surprised at their unfussy eating habits, as they're apparently about the most widely-distributed butterflies in the world -- pace the Chron's science writer, including in Australia.

Posted at 12:19 AM | Comments (6)

April 07, 2005

Red-State Humor

Anyone who still thinks, oh, that bureaucrats or Southern US cops or red-staters in general have no sense of humor, or that anything at all breaks down into neat predictable categories, can check this bit of the East Point, Georgia official police department site.

Posted at 06:19 AM | Comments (0)

OK, the Late Pope

So I keep hearing stuff about how, well, the Pope was a doctrinal conservative, but he made up with the Jews. Or: He was rude to women and gays and condemned contraception as well as abortion and forbade the use of condoms that would have saved lives -- in effect, made sexual "sin," even that of another (like one's husband) a death-penalty crime -- but he was against the Iraq war and "naked capitalism" too, just as strongly.

As if it somehow balanced out. I'm sure Tom DeLay is nice to kittens and fluffy dogs, too, and he probably eats his vegetables like a Clean Plate Ranger.

But those statements aren't even true anyway. He was a doctrinal conservative? The hell. He added to Church doctrine his own well-established social opinion that women are second-class citizens in his church (whatever "separate-but-equal" spin the hierarchy might put on it) and may not ever be priests, end of discussion. I am amazed that people are even considering such a person a legitimate speaker to crowds, let alone a moral leader. He made the idea that a seminary must be a seg academy a matter of doctrine! The next thing to an ex cathedra declaration!

That old test is still useful: substitute absolutely any other group for "women" in that statement, and see what the reaction is. I do note with grim amusement that the one thing people of every race and nation can be counted on to unite around is their willingness to diss women.

I'll let "the Jews" -- right, one mass with one opinion -- decide how well JP2 satisfied them about that little unpleasantness in the 1930s and 1940s.

As for the "he was equally against war" "seamless garment" nonsense, just exercise memory a bit. Was it ever suggested by anyone in the Catholic hierarchy that John Kerry lose his Communion "privileges" for his support of the Iraq war? No. Have they, any of them, started excommunicating plutocrats? Somehow it seems never to have come up.

Was Pinochet excommunicated? Far from it; I do believe the Pope pleaded for mercy for the old mass murderer.

And of course, just as Mother Theresa didn't die in one of her own clinics, John Paul 2 was allowed to die after only a brief bout with a nasogastric feeding tube, not a surgically implanted one, and no further medical interventions. Bet they pulled the NG tube too. And that's not even invasive, as surgery to introduce a permanent feeding tube is. Anyone who thinks "that's difffferent" from Terri Schiavo's unnecessarily protracted death needs to look at the available primary evidence.

Posted at 02:41 AM | Comments (2)

April 06, 2005

Sunol Stroll

Drove down to Sunol Regional Park today, because someone had reported a Harris' sparrow hanging out with a flock of golden-crowns. What the heck, an excuse to get out on a sunny day. The creek was running high and merry, and everybody was full of Spring excitement.

Posies were popping out by the road -- several lupines, mostly blue; one was so blue I took it for delphinium at first. Also some pale pink lotus, woodland star, fiddleneck, poppies, the exotic short deep-pink cranesbill, mule ears, butter-n-eggs, owl clover, paintbrush. Tha bigleaf maples and oaks (achoo) were blooming too -- I took bad photos of the maple flowers, because they're really quite handsome: a sort of dangling loose snapdragon like a set of windchimes, red and yellow, that on close inspection has tiny maple noses starting out on it.

Found the sparrow flock after being redirected to the other parking lot, and after a few minutes' patience as they skittered in and out of some low snowberry lining the leaf-littered path, sure enough, one was a first-year Harris'. It seemed a bit shyer than the golden-crowns, retreating to cover more often and for longer periods.

We also has a couple of glimpses of a dusky-footed woodrat doing the same dance in and out of the brush. Cute little booger.

Strung out on the same path, a couple of spotted and several California towhees, plain titmouse making lots of noise, Hutton's vireo, chickadees, acorn woodpeckers, black phoebe, and a Bullock's oriole by ear, chattering and singing.

After the sparrow flock got flushed by walkers, we strolled out onto the arched and weirdly bouncy bridge over the creek, where a few other birders were looking around. Another oriole (or the same one, dunno) -- two orioles, male and female, in sight this time, in the sun, chasing and bopping around in the mostly-leafless sycamores along the creek. A park naturalist told us that one of the stick nests in view over the water belonged to a pair of red-shouldered hawks, and sure enough we heard one hollering, though no one was on the nest. Cliff swallows dashed over, and a house wren sat on a twig near one end of the bridge and sang his head off for at least five minutes.

Turned onto the trail in the general direction of Little Yosemite, and there were more house wrens carrying on -- in total at least three males and two females, paired up and one carying nesting material. We stopped to sort out a chatter between acorn woodpecker and red-shafted flicker, and followed the flicker up a sycamore trunk, where she did us a great favor.

She skittered up over a hole in the trunk, and a face appeared in it, looking for all the works like a little fuzzy old man just awakened from not enough sleep and grumpy about it. Once the face was in sunlight, it blinked and winced and finally settled in to enjoy the warmth. As it poked out farther, filling the hole completely, we decided it was a western screech-owl. There it stayed, eyes slitted, basking and occasionally blinking, eventually bringing its small ear tufts up.

We walked up the trail a bit, taking wildflower photos -- lots of blue-eyed grass -- and watching those wrens carry on, admiring the new foliage on oaks and sycamores and walnut, until it felt like lunchtime.

Coming back, we re-found the sycamore and hole and the owl was still there, apparently napping in its hole in the sunshine.

Posted at 01:52 AM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2005

Gossip, Dammit

Joe was in the UC library today and heard someone say that Alan Dundes, the urban folklorist, had dropped dead. Haven't heard it from official sources yet... Maybe it's an urban legend.

If not -- damn.

Posted at 06:19 AM | Comments (2)